Neurological: Reflex sympathetic dystrophy

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (complex regional pain syndrome) is a serious, but uncommon condition that can cause severe pain and disability. (View Wikipedia for detailed description.)

I was asked to visit an 83 year old widowed lady, who suffered from this condition, to check her blood pressure. One of the drugs she was taking for the disorder could sometimes lower the blood pressure to a dangerous level.

Before the operation that caused her condition, there had been only two things left of importance in her life - teaching craft and being able to drive her car to the local shops.

One day, for no apparent reason, she developed pain, tingling, and reduced ability to move her fingers on her right side. Unresponsive to standard anti-inflammatory drugs and pain-killers, her orthopedic surgeon recommended surgery to “free-up” the nerve supplying her forearm - a so-called "ulnar nerve disentrapment”.  This is where the nerve passes over the medial epicondyle at the elbow - better known as the “funny bone”. (See picture below) The aim was to take pressure off the nerve that would hopefully stop her pain and improve or restore her hand movement.

Unfortunately, her pain increased significantly and her arm and hand turned a dark bluish grey due to the onset of “reflex sympathetic dystrophy” - a  complication of her operation. Subsequently, the pain worsened, making driving impossible. She became severely depressed as a result.

ulnar nerve impingement

When I first visited her, her hand had been unusable and agonisingly painful for 12 months. Finger movement was impossible, and poor blood circulation and subsequent lack of oxygen caused the skin on the whole of her hand and forearm to become deep blue in colour and icy cold.

Three physiotherapy sessions a week had no effect on her condition, nor did the medication open up the blood vessels in her hand as hoped. Clearly, the deep blue - almost black - hand and forearm suggested the medication was not working. Her blood pressure was dangerously low.

Coincidentally, a week or so earlier, I had used the wheatgrass extract effectively on a 2 year old girl whose hands had suddenly turned very cold due to a condition called Raynaud's disease. Both her hands and feet were intermittently turning icy cold and blue, but after applying a small amount of  wheatgrass extract to one cold hand, within a few minutes blood circulation returned, returning warmth to both hands and feet. Thinking it might help restore Mrs. G's circulation as well, I put the proposition to her to try it.

“If there is the slightest chance it might work, I would willingly try it." she replied.

So, I squeezed a matchhead-sized blob of cream on to a toothpick then very carefully applied it in a thin line, to the back of her dark blue hand.

To my amazement, as I ran the toothpick over her skin, the thin line instantly blanched then began to widen. Over the next minute or two, the entire dark-coloured hand and forearm turned white - then pink and warm.

Blood circulation had clearly returned, and, after about three minutes, both her hands were the same colour. Clearly, there had to be some connection (by nerves) to the other side of her body, but I had no idea how this event could have occurred.

And that was not all. A few minutes later, she regained full sensation in the hand and the shooting pains that made her life such a misery had disappeared. Also, she was now able to move her "paralysed" fingers!

About ten minutes later, she was able to pick up a light plastic cylinder off the table.

“Doctor. This is a miracle!" she cried. "I haven’t moved my fingers for a year and I have no pain now.”

I had to agree with her. I had never seen such an amazing "healing" response in my entire medical career.

The sceptics may scream, “Placebo! ”, but I won't accept that. Having been a doctor for 20 years I had never witnessed or heard of a “healing” phenomenon - anywhere.

Follow up

Two days later I dropped in to see how Mrs. G. was getting along.

Expecting a smiling face, she was in no way happy. It turned out that her symptoms were only relieved for two or three hours, after which the pain returned, more severely! Naturally, she was not prepared to try the cream again, but she did allow me to apply a little cream over the ulnar nerve at the elbow. This brought almost immediate relief of pain in her forearm and hand and an increased range of movement at the elbow.

So, in some way, the wheatgrass extract had relaxed the muscles that moved the elbow, wrist and hand joints. However, this only lasted a minute or so, then the elbow stiffened up again. Nonetheless, there clearly were some dramatic changes affecting her blood circulation and various nerve channels supplying her arm and hand.

Today, I have a very different view as to how this "miracle" most likely came about. Clearly, sensory nerve channels to the brain had been re-coupled, facilitating recovery of sensation or "feeling" and muscular movement.

Even though Mrs. G. refused further "treatment" with wheatgrass extract, there had clearly been complex physiological improvement that, for a short period of time, stopped her pain and restored blood supply, sensation and movement to her forearm and hand.

Rebuff from above

Not long afterwards, I met up with with Mrs. G.'s cardiologist who specialised in the treatment of RSD. At first he seemed interested in my observations, but was unable to explain how the "recovery" might have occurred. He felt there was no point in persuing the matter any further.

Perhaps he was thinking, "I'm not interested. It's herbal."

Dr. Chris Reynolds.

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